Rio Reptiles
Rio Reptiles - A Rescue Resort


Basic Bearded Dragon Care Guide


Babies and young juvies can be housed in a small tank or bin for several months until they hit their growth spurt. Small babies prefer the security of close quarters over wide open spaces so they feel safe and sound.
An enclosure for an adult bearded dragon should have lots of floor space. I don't believe in tanks due to their narrow shape and high sides unless you are housing younger, smaller animals. The optimum floor space to keep one bearded dragon is 36 to 48 inches x 24 inches, the height can vary from 14 to 24 inches depending on how the lighting is set up. If a dragon is handled frequently and outside the enclosure often, something smaller is acceptable but no less than 18 inches x 36 inches with a height of 18 inches. Again, the lighting setup must always be taken into consideration..

Their are a couple of options for lighting one being a single mercury vapor uv lamp with ultra violet and heat, the other being a fluorescent uv bulb with a separate lamp for heat. Many prefer the mvb due to the higher outputs of uv light and high basking temps with a single bulb. Use of a mercury vapor bulb requires a larger enclosure and adequate ventilation to keep proper temps. Mercury vapors have a longer useful life but must be used at recommended distances for safety and optimum effectiveness. *always check for manufacturer recalls prior to purchasing any mercury vapor bulb.

Linear tube fluorescents are also very popular due to the lower heat output for smaller or stacked enclosures. Their useful life is only 6 months before the uv quality degrades to useless and a separate small spot or standard household bulb can be used for heat but be sure the wattage attains proper temps. Lights should be on for 14 hours and off at night for 10 hours in summer. Never use a coil fluorescent bulb, some are harmful, others have insufficient output.

Babies and young dragons eat constantly and prefer higher temps of 100ºF to 110°F. They are rarely seen far from their basking area while sub adults and adults will bask mostly in the morning and after meals. It is still important to keep a basking temp above 100ºF available for them. All dragons need to be able to cool down so part of their enclosure needs to be between 75ºF and 85ºF depending on the season. During cold months be sure that the temps never drop below 65º. If necessary, a ceramic heat emitter can be used. To monitor temps and humidity, the Accutemp thermometer with probe from Wal mart is a good value but a temp gun can be obtained from Home Depot or Lowes for about $20. Never guess at your beardies temperatures!
Babies can eat three to four times per day and prefer insects like crickets, worms and roaches. They should always have greens available in their dish. While young, bearded dragons diets will consist of 80% insects and 20% veggies gradually becoming the opposite by the time they are adults. Juvies can be offered greens in the morning followed by insects twice per day. Sub adults can be given a larger amount of greens in the morning and insects once per day while adults need to have their greens filled twice or more per day and offered insects three or four times per week. Only feed greens that have a high calcium to phosphorus ratio and low vitamin A, goitren and oxalate content.
Babies should get their insects dusted with calcium powder every day one time per day with vitamins two times per week. Juvies and adults should have their insects dusted five days per week with vitamins two days per week. Sick, undernourished or gravid dragons should be given extra calcium or liquid calcium as needed or directed by a qualified vet. It is also good to learn how to properly gutload insects before feeding for better nutritional value. Recommended calcium with D3 for fluorescent uv, or calcium without D3 for mercury vapor uv, multi vitamin with little or no vitamin A such as Herptivite.
Babies need to be offered water daily with a dropper, they are small and like high basking temps and tend to dehydrate faster. Juvies to adults can be offered water several times per week or can be given baths every two or three days by allowing them to soak for 20 to 30 minutes. A small water dish can be offered and its a good idea to put a couple of greens in with the water so they learn its there for drinking. Just be sure to change the water daily.
For babies, any loose substrates are questionable. They can cause impaction and house harmful bacteria. Stick to paper towels, non adhesive shelf liner, masking paper, dish towels or non glazed tile to be on the safe side. For juvies to adults, tile, paper, or non adhesive shelf liner is probably the most sanitary and easiest to clean. Some still use double sifted play sand, wheat bran, reptile carpet or news paper and paper towels but the more porous the surface, the harder to keep clean and sanitary. Always avoid fine or calcium sand or ground up nut shells due to risk of impaction and possible internal injuries. If using play sand, provide a clean area for feeding.
It is important clean up feces and urates as soon as possible every day. Almost all parasites and illness common to beardies is from the ingestion of parasite eggs passed through feces. Always remove any crickets that have not be eaten before lights go out for the night. Deep cleanings can be done monthly or as needed by replacing substrate or cleaning in 10% bleach solution. Furniture and branches should be cleaned, rinsed well and baked at 200º in the oven for ten minutes. Be sure inside of enclosure and items are completely dry before the dragon can reenter.
For babies, keep it very simple, a small branch is all they need. When it is time for their permanent home, every beardie needs an basking area or a rock, climbing branch and a place to hide. It is better to keep it simple but you can make it as cool as you want as long as your beardie is comfortable and happy.
Environment It is important to simulate a beardies natural environment as much as possible in order to avoid stress and promote their health and well being. An imbalance with lighting, heating or temps, diet and nutrition and/or comfort levels, can cause stress. This can lead to higher parasite levels, lethargy, and/or cause them to stop eating. Any indication of problems should be handled by a qualified vet.  
Some additional items to have on hand include a temp gun laser type thermometer, baby wipes or cleaning wipes are convenient for small, fast clean ups. Small squirt bottle or syringes for water, dosing or hand feeding. Small sized fleece or soft blanket for dragon at night. Small plastic bin and water crystals for feeders.

Download the Bearded Dragon Caresheet PDF


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